Charles Colson: Advice From a Former Inmate
Colson, the former Nixon chief counsel and "hatchet man" who did time for obstruction of justice in connection with the Watergate affair, is a poster child for jailhouse conversion. He became a born-again Christian in prison and subsequently founded the highly influential Prison Fellowship Ministries, as well as the conservative forum BreakPoint. Here's the advice he would give Martha Stewart (and he plans to call her about it too).
The first thing I would tell her is that she should get with the Christian Fellowship Group inside the prison at Danbury [the Connecticut minimum-security prison where she is likely to be sent]. It just so happens I was up there last fall and spoke to the women and was really impressed. There was a thriving fellowship, we had about 400 women come out. In fact, they packed the hall. We couldn't get anymore in. And they were on fire for the Lord. So she will discover if she goes to them, that they will open their arms to her.
The biggest problem in a prison is you don't know who to befriend, you don't know who really you could trust. When you're famous [in prison] as I was, a lot of inmates will want to help you. But they want to help you because they want something from you. So the best advice I got was: Find out who's real and who's sincere before you start making any close friends. Prisons are full of con men or con women, and I had people every day offering me narcotics or alcohol. They would have loved for me to have taken [it] because then I would be in their debt. So you have to be very cautious about your relationships, but at the same time she would find out that the Christian group, which I know in that prison to be a really wonderful group of women, would be warm and supportive.
The other thing I discovered that I would tell Martha Stewart is to recognize that prisons are full of people just like you. You might come from a high and mighty position, but you're basically no different than the people in that prison. Jesus for a time had become lower than the angels to be like us, so that he would not be ashamed to call us his brothers. I looked around that prison, which was full of some very serious criminals and a lot of drug dealers and swindlers, con men, and realized, hey, these folks are my brothers. I'm no better than they are. Inmates can scope out a phony in a hurry because they've either manipulated people in their lives or they've been manipulated. So if you approach them in a patronizing way, or if you aren't really sincere, they'll be onto you in a minute. Therefore, just be yourself and be sincere and don't hold yourself out above any of the people in that prison.
She may discover exactly what I discovered, that the best thing that ever happened to me was adversity because it made me face myself. It then gave me an opportunity to help a lot of people that I never would have even thought about before. She may well discover that she feels called to do something-to help people who are largely the most overlooked people in our society-the inmates, the poorest of the poor. Nobody wants to have anything to do with the outcasts of society. And I grew to love those men inside and have found that the most enriching thing, to be able to go back and to try to help them. So I think she may discover that.
The biggest thing I would tell her is to accept her fate-don't fight it. Martha Stewart's got to look herself in the mirror and say, "I committed a crime and now I'm going to pay for it and I'm not going to think about it again. I'm going to get on with myself." If you start dwelling on the past you really destroy yourself.